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from Apparent Power by Dacia Arnold

Copyright © 2021 Dacia Arnold

Chapter Sixteen

The raw, empty hole of her husband’s passing ripped itself open and threatened to swallow her again. She felt stupid for not having put the pieces together herself. All the signs were there. She had brushed off her morning sickness and fainting as anxiety over her newly-awakened gene. Scott would never know their child was growing inside of her. Their son was only two years old. What memory he could hold of his father, she would have to fortify with stories of how much he loved them. Scott had lived through two wars, but her love for him was what led to his early demise. Lucas Jarrett wanted nothing more than to rid the world of his competition, but Valerie would hold on to her husband’s memory until her dying breath. For the man she loved, continuing their bond was the least she could do.

She resented her title, her genetics, and her involuntary attraction to the doctor. She hated herself for what had happened. She hated being drawn to another man while mourning the loss of her lover. In her delirium, she had even thought August was Scott in the ambulance. The way his voice filled her heart with warmth, the familiarity of his touch. How just his presence had revitalized her. She wished her husband had returned somehow from the clutches of death to be with her. Fight with her.

But Valerie was now a widow. A single mother of not one, but soon-to-be two children. She could not protect the one she had, and she struggled to see a happy future for the one she carried. Being so hopeless, if just for a second, she hoped the child would not grow. Her selfishness turned into shame, and she wished to fall asleep and never wake up. Scott had been her strength, and he was gone. Her will was gone.

She held her breath to stop the sobs from being audible. She could feel the pressure build in her head. Then someone knocked at the door. Her heart fluttered. Maybe August had come back. The thought brought back her shame and anger until the door opened, and Hyka peeked in before opening the door the rest of the way. She wore all white. Her pants, long-sleeved shirt, and tennis shoes were bright white, a sharp contrast to her tan skin and black hair. Valerie had never seen her wear so many clothes. Behind Hyka, at thigh height, a boy peeked into the room, just as Hyka did before her entry.

Valerie released the breath she held and the tears she had fought to conceal. She tried to smile as she reached her arms out to her son, but her face just twisted with a mix of emotion. The boy pushed past Hyka. Valerie’s father and brother filed into the room after him.

She wrapped her arms around her son. She knew she would never let him go. Caleb would never leave her side again. She would protect him and keep him safe as long as she had air in her lungs and her heart continued to beat. Valerie rocked him. He let her, nestling his face into her neck as she kissed his head.

Mike Burton crossed the room and sat at the end of her bed.

“I didn’t do what he said I did. He lied.” Valerie’s voice broke, and tears streamed down her face into Caleb’s hair.

The boy did not seem to notice nor care. Mike nodded to his daughter in understanding, but Kevin stayed tight-lipped next to Hyka. Valerie could not look at them without breaking down again.

“Where is he?” Valerie asked moving herself to the edge of the bed still holding the boy. “This is going to end now.”

Hyka clicked her tongue and jerked her head to a glass ball on the ceiling. A camera.

“I don’t care. I am not going to let him take anything else from me.” The rage balling up inside of her was a sharp contrast to the tenderness of her son’s embrace. She wanted to scream, break everything within reach. But instead, she cried and kissed Caleb’s head.

 “Are you sad?” he questioned. Caleb lifted his head to face hers. He used his finger to trace down the tear streaks on her face. “Don’t have a sad face. Have a happy face.”

Caleb smiled as big as he could, and Valerie tried to mimic his expression.

“It’s okay, Sweetie-Petey. I just—I missed you so very, very much. Did you have fun with Grandpa?”

“Uh-huh, and Uncle Kev! We played Pac-Man.”

Valerie smiled, cupped the boy’s face, and pulled him in for a kiss. She hugged him again and through tears mouthed the words “thank you” to Mike and Kevin. Hyka cleared her throat to get the room’s attention.

“Duke needs us to take you to In-Processing so they can issue you a badge.” Hyka held up a card attached to a lanyard around her neck. “This is how we get around this place, and how they track where we are.” Hyka released the card, the badge snapped back into its reel.

Even her son had one. She held the card up to examine it. It was white with a blue border and had his cute little face in the middle. At the bottom: Caleb Burton, Level 10 Access, Minor.

“Duke, what? And why, for the love of everything, do they refuse to use my name? I haven’t been Valerie Burton for over a decade. What do these do? What are the co...

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